Expert tip: Mooring a boat

We’ve assembled a panel of experts to bring you their best advice on mooring a boat from safety to skills and protection

Mooring a boat can be difficult for even the most experienced yacht owner, and for those just starting their boating journey it can be a, frankly, daunting exercise.

Mooring can take any shape and form. For many, especially those in the UK, berthing in a marina in a berth or against a pontoon is probably the most common method of mooring you will encounter. It’s relatively simple compared to other types of mooring, but there’s still a lot of skill and understanding to maneuvering your boat in such close quarters.

Even moored in a marina, you will often have to contend with the tide and almost always with head, stern or crosswinds, which will make the process a bit more difficult.

For those looking to navigate the Mediterranean they will need to familiarize themselves with stern mooring or perhaps the less common mooring (though popular in Scandinavian countries).

And that’s all before we even get to the subject of mooring different types of boats, from long keelboats to multihulls, all require a subtly different approach.

While it’s not possible to provide advice for every situation, we’ve assembled a panel of experts from Yachting Monthly to give you some helpful advice and tips covering many different types of mooring.

Let the engine do the work – Vyv Cox

Lazy lines can be heavy to carry. 1 credit

Throughout the Mediterranean, boats berth astern in ports, harbors and marinas equipped with lazy lines, sometimes referred to as ‘slim lines’, although in many cases ‘barnacle lines’ may be more appropriate.

These lines, usually one per boat less than about 38 feet but often two at the dock for larger boats, include a rope which is attached underwater for chaining.

In most cases, the chain will be made of fairly short chunks, at least 1 inch, attached to an even heavier floor chain running perpendicular to the bunks and made of large concrete blocks.

The usual arrangement is for boats to power-roll aft of the wall, making chains from each aft cleat to bollards on the quay, positioned close enough for the crew to get off, then carrying the line forward and making her go on a front cleat.

Getting the lazy line up on board, especially if the bottom line is only a short distance in front of the boat, takes effort.

It is common to see two crew hauling on this line in their efforts to taut it, especially in the usual crosswind of so many Mediterranean ports.

A much preferable method is to run the stern warps around the available bollards and then let them out to their full length while the lazy line is fully hauled up, but with little effort.

The boat is then propelled to full throttle while the stern chains are tightened, lifting the bottom chain quite comfortably.

If the stern lines are found to be pulling the boat too close to the wall, the process is repeated until everything is taut.

In the event of a hard blow, your boat will be one of the few to remain stable in complete safety.

Secure your boat in style – Jonty Pearce

Make sure the wings hang out of the water

Make sure the fenders hang out of the water when mooring a boat

Any mooch around boats left moored on marina pontoons will manifest an astonishing array of diverse mooring arrangements.

While most will be safely left with an appropriate range of lines and springs, some owners seem content with leaving their craft tied up with various pieces of string laid out haphazardly.

A similar range of defense techniques can be observed: too many, too few, too short, too long, and often misplaced.

At the very least, use bow and stern lines with a pair of springs preventing fore and aft thrust.

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Use one line per job, doubling up to combine a bow line and a spring prevents individual adjustment.

Most finger berths are not of generous proportions, meaning the use of breast lines is superfluous – bow and stern lines will usually be adequate.

Protect against chafing and make sure your reasonably spaced wings don’t tangle or hang out of the water.

Finally, resist the temptation to use old sheets and polypropylene rope.

Custom made nylon or polyester mooring lines provide the stretch, strength and abrasion resistance to ensure you find your boat where you left off.

Anti-friction protection for lines – Rachael Sprot

The old fire hose provides excellent protection for the mooring lines.  Credit: Rachael Sprot

The old fire hose provides excellent protection for the mooring lines. Credit: Rachael Sprot

We cross an awful lot of mooring lines on our travels. We often come to rest on concrete walls in fishing ports or commercial docks in high latitudes, and mooring lines take a lot.

We’ve tried every form of chafing, from sanitary hose to the extremely expensive ballistic sleeve, but so far the old fire hose has been the best.

It has just the right balance of flexibility and strength, and at around £1 per yard it is one of the cheapest materials on the market.

If you want to make it easier to use, you can ask your sailmaker to cut it lengthwise and sew a piece of velcro to the edge to make it easier to wrap around a line.

A chain of fenders for pole protection – Ken Endean

Mooring a boat tip A chain of fenders is best against a post.  1 credit

A chain of fenders is best against a pole when mooring a boat. 1 credit

Docks with vertical posts can be a tricky mooring proposition for small watercraft because their fenders are reluctant to stay up against the posts.

The wooden staging of Steamer Quay, Totnes on the River Dart, is a particularly dull example of this type of structure, as it was touted as a suitable anchorage for yachts, but its posts are widely spaced.

The conventional solution is a fender board, rigged outside the fenders.

When we moored to a ladder, we rigged our fender board amidships, where it offered protection from the ladder and an adjacent post (see below), but it was clear that the flat -board also needed protection from the next post, and we only carry one board fender.

A fender board can provide some protection when mooring a boat against poles.  1 credit

A fender board can provide some protection when mooring a boat against poles. 1 credit

The best answer is a tusk collar, laced end to end and hung under the gunwale.

At Totnes we got by with just two fenders, but we’ve used up to five in the past, particularly in harbors where swells or gusts of wind cause boats to bounce back and forth.

The fenders should obviously be sausage-shaped, with eyes at both ends.

If each fender lanyard goes through its neighbour’s “empty” eye and then up a lifeline, the row is likely to remain stable.

Don’t Lock In Too Hard – Jonty Pearce

Don't forget to do a full OXO to secure your boat.  Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly

Tip for mooring a boat: Remember to do a full OXO to secure your boat, not a cleat hitch hybrid, shown here. Credit: Graham Snook/Yachting Monthly

Before leaving for our Atlantic crossing, my wonderful RYA instructor insisted that locked turns on a cleat were both unnecessary and potentially dangerous unless the boat was left for a while.

Why? Because they lock.

In any procedure, whether routine or urgent, failure to release a line from a cleat in a timely manner can result in nautical discomfort and harsh words from the skipper.

A friend of mine is a fan of lock turns and once in my absence he kindly adjusted the tension on my moorings leaving them secured by a stack of lock turns.

When I got back to the boat, it was a real struggle to free them – AuricSoaring in the gusty conditions had tightened the hitch and the lock turns had locked.

My instructor felt that the only acceptable method of tightening was to use the time-honored “OXO” method – one turn around the base, a criss-cross on each lug, and a final turn around the cleat.

This leaves a neat, secure and compact hitch that won’t come undone and leaves plenty of room on the cleat for another line on top, if needed.

I’m happy for a final single lock turn over the OXO if I want extra security, but never more than one when mooring a boat.


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